One of my main goals as a third year PhD student is to communicate my research topic and artistic practice to a larger audience. I am able to achieve this in three ways: (1) pursue teaching or tutoring opportunities, (2) publish in peer-reviewed journals, and (3) participate in conferences. In the last two years my supervisors (Beccy Kennedy, Sian Bonnell, and Jane Brake) already led me to several teaching/tutoring engagements, such as through the Unit X symposium of Manchester Met. More recently, one of my papers is already being considered by a reputable journal in the field of visual culture — fingers crossed! And just this summer, I presented two papers at an international conference.  

The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) annual conference hosted in Nairobi, Kenya (launched online due to Covid-19) proved a worthwhile experience for me to interact with wider academic networks. Featuring more than 1,000 papers and online presentations from all over the world, this year’s conference carried the theme of ‘Rethinking Borders and Boundaries: Beyond the Global//Local Dichotomy in Communication Studies’. My paper and video art/performance piece titled Mesa Sa Kwarto: A ‘tiny desk’ exhibition of Southeast Asian artefacts via Zoom during lockdown was featured by the IAMCR Visual Culture Working Group. In addition, my co-authored paper Identity-participation in the ASEAN through curatorial collaborations: a participatory approach was included in the Participatory Processes, Public Policies and Citizenship session of the IAMCR Participatory Communication Research Section. This paper collaboration with the participants who contributed to my PhD research is what I would like to share in this blog. 

First, a brief background: my practice-led PhD is about how participatory photography can prove useful in the discourse of identity among Southeast Asians. To date, I have already involved 16 individuals from Southeast Asian countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam) and the UK. Our work culminated in the online exhibition MADE IN ASEAN (with live events running from 15 November until 15 December 2020). For more information on our curatorial collaborations, please visit: The virtual exhibition gallery is still open! 

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I invited the participants to co-author with me a paper about our ongoing project and three of them agreed — Martin Vidanes (University of the Philippines-Diliman), Freya Chow-Paul (Asia-Europe Foundation), and Kerrine Goh (National Arts Council Singapore). And as soon as I saw the IAMCR’s call for papers, I immediately relayed to the group the opportunity that awaits us. Because of the pandemic, this is only one of the very few times that a high-profile conference would be held online — giving access to anyone no matter where they are from and without the need to pay for costly airfare and accommodation.  

Indeed, the conference rewarded us with various learning experiences. For one, I saw the educational value of participation as a method even beyond my data-gathering data-gathering and field work. By sharing the co-authorship of the ideas that emerged from the study, we all recognised each other’s potential in carrying the aims of the study further. In these academic conferences, researchers would typically speak on behalf of their study participants. And this is reasonable when, for example, the respondents and the information gathered from them are anonymised. However, because of the nature of my PhD topic, it is important that the participants should also see for themselves the academic and social impact of our research efforts. Thus, I used the conference opportunity to ensure that they are not only represented well but also given a venue where they can exercise their own voice and claim their contributions. And we all felt some sense of accomplishment, knowing that we reached an international audience. 

 The IAMCR 2021 Nairobi Conference concluded on 15 July 2021. For those interested, feel free to watch our video presentation (12 minutes) to know more about our project:

For my fellow PGRs, especially those at the beginning of their PhDs, I would like to leave a few tips on how to participate in these international conferences.  

  1. Call for abstracts /papers are usually circulated 5 to 8 months ahead of the conference launch. Make sure that your abstract adheres to the conference theme or topic. And do follow the word limit for abstract submissions (typical abstracts are around 500 words while extended abstracts could be up to 2,500 words) — many abstracts are rejected based on these technicalities. If you are unsure whether your submission is suitable to the conference theme/topic, just email the conference chair to give them a quick summary — they do reply to enquiries! — they may even recommend which session is more appropriate for you.   
  2. PhD students who are still exploring their topics can participate in ‘pre-conferences’ (instead of the actual conference proceedings). These smaller academic gatherings are very welcoming to students and ‘early career’ researchers. The call for abstracts/papers are usually announced much closer to the conference launch, around 2 to 4 months ahead.  
  3. Be prepared to give a presentation in front of an audience — research students, professors and even renowned authors/scholars may be among the crowd. Usually, presenters are given around 7 minutes only (or 15 minutes in some generous sessions) so what I would do is jump right away to the findings/results and work my way backwards. I would immediately present the outcome of the study as a question (i.e., Did you know that participatory photography can contribute to the discourse of identity in Southeast Asia?), then I would explain how I learned about this (methodology) before I link back to essential information (literature review and theories, et cetera).  
  4. Lastly, some conferences can prove costly, from the registration fees to relevant travel expenses, so it helps if you can apply for some funding. The relatively inexpensive online conference fees of IAMCR 2021 proved still quite a sum because my co-authors and I are presenting as a group. We were only fortunate because earlier in the year I already applied for some funding to cover my research costs. Hence, we were able to use the Research Support Award that was granted by the Manchester Met Graduate School — thank you!  

Good luck on your conference plans!  

Kristian was funded through the Manchester Metropolitan Graduate School’s Research Support Award to attend the IAMCR 2021 Nairobi Conference. You can find out more about the award and upcoming deadlines by visiting the PGR Development Moodle area.  

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